Ritz-Carlton residents in downtown L.A. resist potential plans to house homeless individuals amid pandemic

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Fearing a luxury hotel in downtown Los Angeles could be asked to house homeless individuals amid the pandemic, the building’s homeowner’s association is rallying residents in opposition, according to an email obtained by KTLA on Wednesday.

Addressing full-time residents of the Ritz-Carlton at 900 W. Olympic Blvd., the email explains a proposal by L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin could require all hotels to disclose any financial assistance they have received from the city. Bonin has indicated this could be one way to get more hotels to comply with Project Roomkey, the state-run program securing rooms for the homeless.

And the 5-star Ritz-Carlton has received public funds in the past.

The city of L.A. approved $270 million in financial assistance over a 25-year period for the Ritz and adjoining J.W. Marriott, which collectively have 1,000 rooms, according to a 2018 report from the city controller’s office.

So far, the hotel has refused to take part in Project Roomkey, according to the email addressing residents.

“We have resisted this here on our LA LIVE campus, since the April 3rd initiative was brought before us by Governor Newsom,” reads the email. 

AEG Worldwide, the company behind the hotels’ development at L.A. Live, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At the Ritz-Carlton, rooms are currently listed for around $500 a night on websites like Booking.com and Priceline. But the hotel also houses 224 full-time residents, according to Art Avaness, a realtor who manages units in the building. He said the residents’ safety and health could be threatened if the building is used to house homeless individuals, explaining the two groups would have to share amenities.

“The biggest issue is safety — safety of our residences at the Ritz- Carlton,” Avaness said. “It’s very, very alarming and concerning because, health-wise, it jeopardizes everything for everybody.”

The email from the homeowner’s association gives instructions to residents on how to reach public officials and express their opposition to taking part in Project Roomkey.

“We have done a great job onsite minimalizing the COVID-19 virus and are one of the lucky few buildings that have zero reported cases onsite,” reads the email. “Alongside that concern, it may also be detrimental to property values, and overall lifestyle and experience we currently have.”

Project Roomkey continues to secure thousands of rooms at motels and hotels for certain individuals among California’s vast homeless population. Those eligible include people over the age of 65 or those who have underlying health conditions, and those who have tested positive or were exposed to the virus but do not need hospitalization. FEMA assistance will cover 75% of the program’s costs.

“Homeless Californians are incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19 and often have no option to self-isolate or social distance,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said when he announced the initiative last month.

In Los Angeles, more than 3,000 rooms have been secured as part of Project Roomkey, but there is estimated to be around 60,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city.

“Tens of thousands of people living unsheltered on the streets of Los Angeles during a public health crisis while there are tens of thousands of vacant hotel rooms is outrageous,” Bonin wrote in his motion to require L.A. hotels to reveal public assistance.

Days after Project Roomkey launched, Mayor Eric Garcetti encouraged hotels to take part and warned that he has emergency powers to commandeer rooms — a step that could be taken if not enough hotels comply.

“We need to get people into those thousands of rooms today,” Garcetti said.

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